Tupelo Honey Cafe in Virginia Beach partnered with Portsmouth’s newest distillery, Copper and Oak Craft Spirits, for an exclusive three-course dinner event. Customized versions of Tupelo Honey’s most famed South-inspired dishes were paired with fruity and savory cocktails infused with Copper and Oak spirits.
Copper and Oak opened its doors in Historic Old Towne Portsmouth in October 2017, and staying true to the distillery’s roots, Portsmouth resident and distillery owner Skyler Pittman is proud to incorporate local Virginia flavors into his hand-bottled gin, whisky and moonshine. The merging of regionally-flavored spirits and upscale Southern eats made for the ultimate comfort food experience.
Guests dined at communal high top tables in the restaurant’s nautical-themed bar area and were serenaded by two musicians of Portsmouth’s Court Street Company quartet. The flavors and preparation of each plate and cocktail were tastefully described by Pittman and two of his colleagues, Ian McMahon and Vanessa Nichelson, and Tupelo Honey General Manager, Ryan Bowen.
First on the menu was a Salmon Grit Cake, Tupelo Honey’s contemporary twist on a lox bagel. Served atop a light cream cheese base was a buttery, cheese-filled grit cake garnished with slices of smoked salmon, capers and fresh herbs. The dish’s pungent savors were juxtaposed by the fruity profile of Copper and Oak’s Gin & Tonic. Nichelson, Copper and Oak’s mixologist, prepared a stunning pink and purple concoction crafted with vapor-infused gin, tonic water and fresh blueberries. Unlike most gins, Copper & Oak’s spirit is fashioned for bourbon drinkers, giving their take on the classic cocktail a stronger, more whisky-like taste.
Up next was Tupelo Honey’s seasonal short rib plated with mashed Yukon potatoes, baked carrots and peas. Bowen explained that the fall-off-the-bone texture of the short rib is achieved by its two-part cooking process. Once braised, the short rib is stripped of its bones, pressed and reheated in a red wine reduction, providing the meat with its slightly peppered flavor and juicy texture. To mimic the full-bodied flavor of the short rib, Nichelson prepared a traditional Old Fashioned.
Copper and Oak’s whisky is crafted with a plethora of earthy enhancements including white oak, sassafras and cherrywood. The semi-strong and slightly sweet cocktail is served sans ice and garnished with a blood orange wedge and whole cherries.
A deep fried, sugary creation was served as the event’s last course. The eatery’s signature Shoo Mercy Sweet Potato Pancakes were scaled down to dessert-sized portions and embellished with crispy, apple cider bacon, buttermilk fried chicken, spiced pecans, whipped butter and an optional drizzle of syrup. Similar to the savors of the South’s popular chicken and waffles dish, the marriage of salty and sweet flavors and crunchy, yet fluffy textures of Tupelo Honey’s Shoo Mercy Pancakes was absolutely sublime.
To further indulge the palate in saliferous tastes, the pancakes were coupled with a savory Bloody Mary. The veggie-based elixir is a spicy hybrid of Tupelo Honey’s house-made Bloody Mary mix and Copper and Oak’s original Moonshine. Typically rimmed with lime salt, Tupelo Honey and Copper and Oak edged their Bloody Mary with bacon salt and a pickled okra garnish.
For those wanting to try Copper and Oak’s handcrafted spirits, the Portsmouth tasting room is located at 739 High Street and is open select hours Wednesday through Sunday. See more of Tupelo Honey’s other delicious Southern fare here.